How Does EMDR Therapy Work?

EMDR therapy, trauma, PTSD, Willow Counseling, Nashville

If you start researching about trauma treatment, you’ll eventually begin to hear the term EMDR. In recent years, EMDR has increased in popularity, with numerous clinicians and clients raving about its numerous benefits. Let’s explore how EMDR therapy works and how it may help you.

What is EMDR Therapy?

Developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro, EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This treatment was initially created to reduce the distress and turmoil associated with trauma and ongoing PTSD symptoms.

Successful EMDR treatment can help people heal from trauma at a significantly faster rate than more conventional forms of talk therapy.

Who Can Provide EMDR Treatment?

Therapists who want to use EMDR therapy must receive intensive training in this practice. First of all, they must have a qualifying degree in psychology, counseling, social work, etc.

Furthermore, therapists need specific training and certification in EMDR to work with clients. This additional education provides them with a comprehensive overview of delivering effective, quality care.

Ideally, you should seek a therapist who is basic-trained in EMDR or EMDRIA-certified. These mental health professionals have conducted numerous clinical EMDR sessions and have completed additional hours in continuing education and consultation. Likewise, EMDRIA-certified therapists must stay up-to-date with current EMDR-specific continuing education to maintain certification.

Who Should Consider EMDR Therapy?

People struggling with PTSD can benefit tremendously from EMDR. Common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma via flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, or nightmares
  • Feeling numb about the trauma
  • Avoiding people, places, or objects reminiscent of the trauma
  • Experiencing difficulty recalling significant elements of the trauma
  • Feeling deep shame, fear, horror, and anger
  • Blaming yourself or others more than you should
  • Struggling to have positive emotions
  • Increased hypervigilance (restlessness, paranoia, jumpiness, feeling ‘keyed up’)
  • Problems with focus and concentration
  • Sleep issues
Soldier struggling with headaches and PTSD symptoms sitting and talking to his EMDR trained counselor in Nashville, TN as part of his PTSD treatment.

What Does The Research Show?

Since its inception, many therapists and clients have deemed EMDR counseling as a miracle breakthrough in healing trauma. Indeed, the research on EMDR has proven it to be effective in treating PTSD.

One study examining randomized controlled EMDR trials found that 70% of the studies reported EMDR as more effective than conventional cognitive-behavioral therapy. Additional research on children and adolescents with PTSD found that EMDR therapy was superior to waitlist and placebo conditions.

Healthy young asian woman stretching after a run. She found relief for PTSD symptoms after attending trauma therapy with an EMDR trained counselor in Nashville, TN

What Happens In An EMDR Session?

EMDR therapy focuses on learning (and reconciling) parts of the past, present, and future. When we’re using EMDR in counseling sessions, they are very focused. We follow a structure that is we know helps relieve PTSD or anxiety symptoms and helps you meet your own individual goals.

EMDR often typically follows a predictable set of phases. You and your therapist will work through these phases together helping you cope with trauma and PTSD symptoms, process the memories that are keeping you stuck and help you begin moving forward.

Phase One: Assessment and History-Taking

In the first phase, therapists explore and assess your needs to develop an appropriate treatment plan. You and your therapist collaborate together to identify the best targets for your EMDR work. These targets may include certain traumatic memories or current triggers.

Phase Two: Preparation

The next phase of treatment entails discussing and assessing stress management techniques. All successful trauma treatment requires the client’s understanding and willingness to use distress tolerance skills.

You will use these skills during the sessions and in-between the sessions. During this phase, your therapist will also provide you with education about EMDR therapy procedures.

Phase Three: Assessing Target Memories

This phase in your EMDR treatment entails activating the target memory. An EMDR therapist achieves this by engaging in:

-vivid visual images related to the memory
-negative beliefs about the self (usually due to the trauma)
-bodily sensations and emotions

Your therapist will use evidence-based scales to evaluate your thoughts and emotions during this phase.

Phases Four-Seven: Processing Towards Resolution

During these phases, the therapist guides you into focusing on the memories. Simultaneously, the therapist will be engaging in sets of bilateral stimulation (taps, tones, eye movements).  

After the stimulation, your therapist will ask about the thoughts and feelings you experience. Upon identifying them, you may then refocus on that traumatic association. Throughout this process, your therapist will help ground you into the present moment before moving forward if you become overwhelmed or distressed.

As you move through the treatment process, you can eventually become desensitized to the traumatic memory. In other words, the traumatic memory has a less emotional hold on you. It becomes possible to remember what happened without feeling so overwhelmed. You also replace the negative thoughts with more positive thoughts.

Phase Eight: Resolution and Evaluation

EMDR therapy ends with a brief closure and evaluation. Your therapist will ask how you are feeling and how you are doing as a whole. Together, you and your trauma therapist will determine appropriate, future targets if needed.

How Long Does EMDR Take?

The length of EMDR work ranges depending on the individual and your specific PTSD or trauma symptoms. It can take time to feel safe with your therapist. Also, building a positive relationship is important for successful trauma treatment. Therefore, it’s important to take time to build that relationship with your EMDR therapist.

However, EMDR, in general, tends to be brief. In fact, it lasts, on average, around 6-12 sessions for single incident traumas. For complex trauma, it can take longer. However, trauma therapy with an EMDR trained counselor still tends to be faster than traditional talk therapy.

Do I Have to Stop Seeing My Old Therapist?

EMDR therapy can be used as a standalone treatment. However, it can also be used as an adjunct therapy with a separate therapist. In other words, if you already have a therapist you’ve worked with for years on other issues, it is possible to just work with an EMDR therapist for a short period of time and keep working with your old therapist. Just as you would see a pulmonologist if you had trouble breathing, you can think of your EMDR therapist as a trauma specialist and your typical therapist more like your primary care doctor.

EMDR Therapy at Willow Counseling

As EMDR-trained counselors, we understand that you may be worried about working on your trauma. In fact, it can be scary to even think about sharing your story with another individual- much less a stranger. Maybe you haven’t told anyone all of the details of what happened. That said, you deserve a compassionate healing environment that is designed to help you restore your mental health.

Do you have more questions about EMDR? Do you think this form of trauma treatment may help you or someone you care about? Contact Willow Counseling today for a free consultation with a therapist.

EMDR for PTSD in Nashville, TN

If you live in the Nashville, TN area and would like to begin EMDR treatment, the therapists at Willow Counseling can help.

  1. Contact Willow Counseling to schedule a free 30-minute in-person consultation,
  2. Meet with one of our EMDR trauma therapists, and
  3. Begin healing from your trauma and find peace.
White man with a hat hugging a dog while watching a sunset. He found healing after attending counseling services at Willow Counseling in Nashville, TN for trauma therapy with an EMDR trained counselor.

Other Counseling Services Offered at Willow Counseling, Nashville TN

The mission of our counseling clinic in Nashville, TN is to provide quality trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community. In addition to EMDR therapy for PTSD, we offer a variety of other mental health services at our Nashville counseling office to help you on your healing journey, including help for anxiety, therapy for compassion fatigue, and group therapy options. We recognize the relationship between our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. Therefore, our goal is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again. Through counseling, our trauma therapists will help you to recognize the strength and value. You don’t have to stay stuck. Our therapists can help you live the life you deserve.

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